Three Ball Doesn't Fall for Bulls as Rockets Win 117-94

The Bulls were in the game until a barrage of 3s from the Rockets in the 3rd quarter decided the outcome. The Bulls shot poorly, just 12.5% from 3, but kept themselves in the game by grabbing steals and forcing turnovers.

Chicago, we have a problem.

Sure, I could have been more original. But the Bulls could have, too, as the team Saturday in a 117-94 loss to the Houston Rockets offered a familiar scenario, once again shooting poorly, failing to rebound, going limp on offense and falling flat at home against another premier opponent.

Dodging the shrapnel of a Rockets' third quarter mortar attack of three pointers, the Bulls went from a 50-49 halftime deficit to trailing 86-67 entering the fourth quarter. The Rockets led by James Harden with 42 points on nine three pointers — more than double the entire Bulls output — 10 rebounds and nine assists and 20 rebounds from Clint Capela sent the Bulls to a discouraging 3-7 on the season.

You don't see this one much: The Bulls forced 24 turnovers and lost by 23 points.

Four Bulls led by Wendell Carter Jr. with 13 points and 16 rebounds for his sixth double/double of the season were high with 13 points. But the Bulls advocating a three-point shooting offense this season were an implausible four of 32 on threes compared to Houston at 19 for 44. In a 2:12 stretch in the third quarter when the Rockets disappeared from view, they made more threes than the Bulls did all game. Their late 18-2 run too after a 9-0 earlier in the third determined the result.

"How many threes did they make, 19?" Bulls coach Jim Boylen asked rhetorically after he game. "And we made four, so we lost the three-point line by 45 points. It's hard to win a game when you do that."

That also has been a theme of the season with Boylen advocating a so called "modern" NBA approach to offense for the Bulls with, like the Rockets play, a heavy reliance on three pointers along with layups and free throws. The formula is believed to be the most mathematically efficient, according to some. Though Boylen got a bit defensive — perhaps more than his team at times — when questioned after the game about the rationale of being a three-point shooting team when the players aren't three-point makers to this point.

"Who had better shots in the first half, us or them?" Boylen asked reporters, repeating, "Who had better shots? You guys think. Who had better shots? We did. We made them in Atlanta (Wednesday), we didn't make them tonight. They made them and we didn't, so give them credit. You guys watched the game. Did you see them doing anything special (to defend the Bulls shooting)? I didn't see them do anything special."

Still, the Bulls rank in the bottom five in the NBA in three-point shooting percentage and most offensive categories.

Change the emphasis on threes?

"No. I don't think so," Boylen said. "We have guys shooting below their career averages by multiple points. Will that turn? I think it will. It's frustrating when it doesn't. I get it, believe me. I'm sitting over there with it, too."

It was another difficult shooting game for Lauri Markkanen, who was zero for five on threes and three of 10 overall. Even with the Rockets at times playing lineups of five guards, Markkanen mostly floated around the three-point line as he continues to seem uncertain about the offensive changes with fewer play calls and more free form play.

"I wouldn't be worried about that," Markkanen insisted about the three-point shooting. "I know how well we can shoot and tonight it's just we didn't make them. Tonight they just didn't fall. I don't let it affect me. We've got a new game coming up and that's the beauty of this league. I know that I can make shots and it's just a matter of time before they start to fall. We just didn't play as hard as they did and we kind of lost our edge (in the decisive third quarter). We played a really good first half of basketball. We've just got to keep 48 minutes."

Yes, heard that one before, also.

In the first half, the Bulls did compete well, especially with an aggressive defense that produced a dozen steals and 15 Houston turnovers.

"Defensively to start the game, I felt like we were locked in," said Boylen.

Kris Dunn added a few more steals, and public address announcer Tommy Edwards in his final game drew a standing ovation late in the first quarter. "Wow, wow," an overcome Edwards repeated. The Bulls even deserved a few wows in the quarter. Perhaps they had found something peachy Atlanta.

The Bulls, as they have been doing much of the season, started the game blitzing and double teaming the pick and roll, which has been their favored reaction this season. That has led to the Bulls being among the league leaders in steals as they've become adept playing the passing lanes. The flaw has been a failure to rotate when teams react to the trapping and move the ball. But the Rockets with Harden are so good off the pick and roll that the Bulls then found themselves in shaky mismatches with big men like Carter and Luke Kornet trying to defend Harden. No, didn't work. The Rockets went on to shoot 57 percent in the second half.

So it remains a sort of shakedown cruise on offense, especially with Otto Porter Jr. out injured and Chandler Hutchison starting Saturday. Hutchison who was six of 10 primarily on drives was the only starter along with Carter to make at least half their shots.

The Bulls closed the first quarter with a 13-0 run to lead 27-20 against the high scoring Rockets who average 120 points. It was late in the first when the Rockets went with that mini me lineup, which does require decisions. Markkanen finally began to go inside, but right after he dunked on the run after a Russell Westbrook miss, he was taken out for Carter. Carter did score twice after that inside against the one-stage Rockets. But could the Bulls have piled it on with Markkanen and Carter? But then it could have been difficult to cover on the perimeter with the two big men.

The Bulls had their last lead of the game at 35-34 with 7:21 left in the second quarter. That timeout came with Boylen challenging free throws called for Harden with the Bulls leading by three. In that new NBA experiment with one coaching challenge per game, thus far calls generally have been overturned only rarely and only on an egregious missed call. Coaches are trying to adjust, though some argue it would seem worth saving the challenge until perhaps a more pivotal moment late in a game or when a top player commits a fourth or fifth foul and has to leave the game. Though the joke would be — and no one really is laughing — maybe the Bulls believed that was the pivotal moment. Well, they did not need a challenge after that.

The Rockets appeared to be pulling away in that second quarter stretch with a 46-38 lead. But again behind Carter and with a late burst from Zach LaVine with a driving dunk and a three, the Bulls trailed just 50-49 at halftime.

"Tale of two halves," sighed LaVine, who had 11 points and a team high five assists. "We played really good the first half. In transition and I feel like we deflected a lot of their passes, made steals. Didn't in the second half and they got on a roll."

Zach talks with Chuck after the game

Tomas Satoransky's foul trouble and the absence of Porter seemed also to stifle the Bulls. They began to revert to offensive sloth with a pass and quick shot and less of the multiple passes of the Atlanta victory. Which results in more difficult threes, and thus fewer drawing netting rather than iron. "When they're scoring and we're struggling to score, then we get a little bit stagnant," said Boylen. "We get a little bit unsure and that's happened a few times to us. It's what we've got to work on."

Though starting to sputter with five turnovers in the first five minutes of the third quarter, the Bulls still had Houston in their sights, trailing 65-58 after transition baskets by Carter, Satoransky and Coby White, the rookie shooting four of 16.

But you never want to get into a game of pool with a guy who carries his own cue; you never want to gamble with a guy named after a city. And you never want to try to outshoot James Harden at his game.

They shoot; so you should drive.

Eventually, the Rockets are going to hit a streak if you keep giving them chances, and the Bulls did. In that fatal two third quarter minutes with the Bulls contributing two more turnovers, Harden contributed two threes, Eric Gordon added two from barely inside the half court line and Austin Rivers another. The Bulls were gracious enough not to score in that 15-0 Houston barrage and suddenly it was the Rockets by 22.

Game, set and are the Knicks here yet?

"You can't play that style of game with them," said LaVine. "You can't play against them in the half court. They have the best isolation player and if he drives it, you've got Capela to tip it out and stuff like that. So you want to play in transition against them. We didn't get to do that in the second half."

In the fourth quarter, the Rockets mostly tried to throw lob dunk opportunities to one another.

"We played three really good quarters against the Lakers," Boylen pointed out. "We played four really good quarters against Atlanta. We were down one at the half tonight. They doubled us up in the third quarter and that was the difference in the game. They made shots in the third and we didn't. That's what happened. That's all the clouds cleared away now. So to come in here and think I'm going to change my system or change what we've been doing, it's not what I'm about."